The small seaside town of Broadchurch looks sleepy enough, where everybody knows one another and there’s only one road in and one road out. The town is dotted with historic buildings and there are rolling hills with dramatic ocean views. And it won’t be long before the town’s numbers swell with annual holidaymakers.
But darker secrets lay underneath and we are propelled into a whodunit when a body is found on the beach below a towering cliff-face. Were they pushed? Did they fall? Or did something even more sinister happen?
Local criminal investigation officer Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) is ready to begin work on the case after returning from her holiday, but doesn’t take kindly to the news that a promotion she was expecting has been thwarted by the arrival of D.I. Alec Hardy (David Tennant), who has his own secrets after failed former cases.
Things get worse for Ellie when she realises the victim was a local 11 year old boy and friend of her own son. She reels in horror at the distressing news and strives to separate her own feelings from the clinical approach taken by Hardy.
In some of the more compelling scenes, Broadchurch doesn’t shy away from the trauma experienced by the boy’s mother Beth (Jodie Whittaker), either when she runs to the scene of the crime or when the police later confirm the identity of the victim.
Local Echo journalist Olly (Jonathan Bailey) is also nephew to Ellie and eager to break the news. His actions will compromise Ellie as well as draw Karen (Vicky McClure), a journo from the metro Herald, to the town. Her methodology to get a good story isn’t exactly the way the friendly locals are used to working.
As we follow Miller and Hardy piecing together the evidence, more questions are raised than answered. Peripheral characters in the town all seem to know something more they aren’t telling, or behave in ways that leave the audience intrigued.
These form a backdrop to the testy relationship between the two detectives and the emotional heartstrings pulled by the portrayal of a grieving mother. As mysteries go, it’s a loaded deck of cards.
Colman and Tennant are terrific in their central roles, matching one another as defiant characters. Unlike Doctor Who, Tennant retains his Scottish accent making him occasionally challenging to comprehend. Jodie Whittaker is painfully good as a mother in mourning. Australian Simone McAullay (The Strip, Home and Away, Blue Heelers) also appears as a local publican.
The directing style by James Strong makes the most of the evocative setting, using slow-mo, or including poetic shots of characters staring out to sea and tell-tale close ups of body language. These give Broadchurch added effect.
I was easily drawn into the mystery of this town and very satisfied by the uneasy relationship between the two central characters. It’s not hard to see why this has attracted award nominations and has been greenlit to a second season (without wanting to spoil myself I have no idea where it may go).
On plot twists, emotion, performances and storytelling style, Broadchurch is a winner. Can’t ask for anything more than that.
Broadchurch airs 8:30pm Friday ABC1.